similar in texture
to the nest
of the edible-nest
swiftlet used in
bird’s nest soup.
Tamil and Telugu:
Colle du Japon
|This is a classic Japanese sweet summer treat, featuring soft, smooth, crisp textures and colors of all the seasonal fruit, studded with sparkling cool gems and creamy ice cream. What is not to like!
Gelatin is a protein substance derived from collagen, a natural protein present in the tendons, ligaments, and tissues of animals. Sound yummy?There is a vegetable alternative to gelatin: it is made made primarily from the algae Gelidium and Gracilaria (red seaweeds). Agar-agar is a Maylay word meaning jelly. The Japanese word is kanten (寒天). These marine plants are called tengusa in Japanese. Historically, the tengusa was cooked in water to extract the gelatinous substance from the seaweed. This tokoroten has a delicate taste of the sea. To make kanten (which means “cold sky” in Japanese), tokoroten is dried in cold air to become kanten.
Like ordinary gelatin, agar is flavorless and becomes gelatinous when it’s dissolved in water, heated, and then cooled. It can be used as a substitute in most recipes. Agar, though, gels more firmly than gelatin, and it sets and melts at a higher temperature–it can even set at room temperature. Like gelatin, agar will break down if exposed to the enzymes of certain raw fruits, like kiwi fruit, papayas, pineapple, peaches, mangos, guavas, and figs. Cooking these fruits, though, destroys the enzymes. Chocolate and spinach also prohibit gelling.
Kanten is available in various forms.I can easily find the stick form (bo kanten), and the powder form, but Ms. Shimbo notes in her book that she prefers a string form (ito kanten). The powder needs no soaking, but produces a more opaque gelatin. The stick form should be soaked for 1/2 hour, and produces a clear firm gelatin. Apparently the string kanten must be soaked overnight, is the most clear, and makes a soft gelatin.
Agar-agar is used all over Asia to make sweet snacks. In Japan, anmitsu is made of small cubes of agar jelly. The agar is dissolved with water (or fruit juice such as apple juice), served in a bowl with sweet azuki bean paste and a variety of fruits such as peach slices, mikan, pieces of pineapples, and cherries. Anmitsu usually comes with a small pot of sweet black syrup to pour on top.
Mitsumame is anmitsu without bean paste, the mame meaning the peas that are served with the syrup
Classic Agar-Agar Gelatin in Syrup
The Japanese Kitchen •250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
serves 4 generously
- 1 bo kanten (agar-agar stick)
or 1 packet kanten powder (4 grams)
- 1 ¾ cups water
- ½ cup sugar
- prepare a 6-inch square mold
Or, use a cleaned milk carton,
or a square plastic food container.
- 2 cups combined cubed fresh fruit such as
cantaloupe, kiwi, peach, berries, watermelon, banana,…
- 1 can red peas, optional—see note below!
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I did not make the syrup and apricots.
- 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar
- ¼ pound dried apricots
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4 scoops vanilla ice cream
• If you are using the agar-agar stick, tear it into pieces and soak in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze out the water.
• In a medium pot, combine the soaked go kanten or the kanten powder with the water. Cook over medium to low heat, stirring all the time (don’t splash the liquid up the sides of the pot or it will burn and stick): 6 to 8 minutes for the stick form, or 2 to 3 minutes for the powder.
• Add the sugar, and cook, stirring to dissolve.
• Ms. Shimbo suggests straining this mixture through a sieve, but I neglected this step. Wet the mold and shake out the water. Pour in the gelatin liquid. Let it cool to room temperature, then cover and chill.
• Combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a bowl, cool to room temperature, then cover and chill.
• Put the apricots in a small saucepan, cover with water and stir in the ¼ cup sugar. Cook until the apricots are plump and tender but not mushy. Let the apricots cool room temperature in the syrup, then chill.
• Unmold the gelatin and cut it into ½-inch cubes. In a large bowl, combine the gelatin, fruit, apricots, and peas. Pour the syrup over the mixture and toss gently. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour.
Serve in small individual bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
note: Mitsumami means “peas in sugar syrup.” According to Ms. Shimbo, the peas are a red variety with a naturally sweet and nutty flavor. She says they come packed in a small can, which can be found at Japanese food stores. I subsituted sweet red adzuke beans.